Everywhere Besharam Chef Heena Patel Eats on Her Days Off

The La Cocina grad shares her favorite pastries, dumplings and cocktails in San Francisco

November 11, 2022 7:26 am
Chef Heena Patel of San Francisco restaurant Besharam
Chef Heena Patel of San Francisco restaurant Besharam.
Eric Wolfinger

At her restaurant Besharam, chef Heena Patel puts the flavors of her Gujarati heritage center stage. Inspired by childhood memories, her menu features contemporary plays on classics ranging from three-legume dal with fresno chili tadka to drunken pani puri spiked with gin.

“I draw a lot of inspiration from my mom and aunties who were accomplished and incredible home chefs,” she says. “Their cooking informs so much of what I try to serve at Besharam. I recreate a lot of their recipes from memory, replicating dishes from my childhood.”

But Patel also gets inspiration from a host of international spots in San Francisco.

“I love seeing how other chefs from different backgrounds and cultures approach vegetarian dishes,” she says, noting that since moving from Vallejo to Dogpatch, she’s been hard at work exploring her new neighborhood. “I’ve been having fun checking out new places that remind me how diverse and special the city is,” she says.

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And while days off are the perfect time for the busy chef to get a break, to hear her tell it, her mind is always seeking new ideas.

“Even on my days off, I’m always thinking about Besharam and how to keep the menu exciting with new dishes and ingredients,” she says. “Visiting other restaurants keeps me on my toes and makes me excited to get back into the kitchen to experiment and try new things.”

When she’s not crafting new dishes — or indulging in ramen, one of her all-time local faves — here’s where you’re likely to find her.

Breakfast: Breadbelly

“I keep it simple in the morning and start my day with a cup of kadak masala chai at home then head to Breadbelly for a pastry. I’ll have a kaya bun, which is a coconut pandan cream-filled pastry, or a fresh croissant to start the day. The pastries are so flaky and delicious, and I love their use of Asian ingredients like ube and mochi.”

Lunch: La Cocina 

La Cocina is an easy choice for lunch. I got my start in their incubator program, which helps women of color and immigrant entrepreneurs realize their dreams of creating their own businesses. I love that their marketplace is a truly international experience, with chefs creating cuisine from all over the world. Even as a vegetarian, there are so many amazing options. I try to hit each vendor, but always circle back for chef Bini Pradhan’s vegetarian momos and chef Nafy Ba Flatley’s maafe bowl.”

Snack: United Dumplings 

“Sandy Zheng and Julia Olson own this restaurant, and I’ve recently been to the Bernal Heights location. I’ll stop in and grab a few dishes to snack on and order a little extra to have leftovers in the fridge. I like their garlic string beans, stir-fried noodles and vegetarian dumplings filled with bok choy, tofu and mushrooms.”

Dinner: Penny Roma 

“Chefs Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow nailed it again with their newest restaurant. Their pasta, which is made in-house every day, is so delicious. The food is approachable, and the laid-back atmosphere reminds me of being at a dinner party with close friends. I celebrated my birthday here with my family last year but really see Penny Roma as an all-occasion or ‘just because’ place. I’m trying my best to be a regular here.”

After-Dinner Drinks: Nari

“I collaborated with chef Pim Techamuanvivit at a fun event at her restaurant earlier this year and I’ve been a fan ever since. Pim’s approach is influenced by the strong women in her life, which resonates with me and the way I cook at Besharam. I love the combination of sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavors found in her menu, but I’m especially fond of stopping in for a nightcap. Their Wimala, which combines mezcal, Thai tea, chocolate and spiced angostura bitters, is the perfect way to end the night.”


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